Across the nation and for a long time, dedicated community leaders have been working hand-in-hand to bring health, early learning and family supports together to meet the needs of young children and their families. Their efforts, driven by years of practical experience, deep caring, and remarkable vision, amount to much more than a set of services for young children. Rather, they’ve created early childhood systems that employ a comprehensive, integrated approach to ensuring that all children have the opportunity to grow up healthy and prepared to succeed in school.
Reflecting on the impressive efforts of these individual communities, several years ago the Center for the Study of Social Policy, along with three pioneer communities asked the question: What if these early childhood systems-builders could work collectively to produce better outcomes for young children and their families?* The answer materialized, and the Early Childhood Learning and Innovation Network for Communities (EC-LINC)was established. Since 2013, this “community of communities” has focused on tackling the toughest challenges facing young children and families, especially families coping with difficult economic conditions, a lack of affordable housing, fear created by unjust immigration policies and other factors that press on families and communities today.
EC-LINC grew to a network of 10 by 2017. Now, these seasoned early childhood systems-builders regularly share their expertise and best practices, and they go even further. Using an “Action Learning Lab” approach, they advance innovative solutions to pressing problems and they bring those innovations to life. For example, EC-LINC is now engaged in creating and implementing meaningful family engagement strategies that promote leadership and advance equity; catalyzing a pediatric intervention that focuses on addressing the root causes of toxic stress; and exploring how best to use data to track progress and improve practice. This is hard work – challenging and energizing, frustrating and exhilarating, all at the same time. We and our EC-LINC partners are encouraged by how far we’ve come in so short a time and know that so much more is possible when devoted thought leaders and experienced individuals committed to taking action and achieving better results for children band together.
With these possibilities in mind, we are extremely pleased to welcome four new communities to the EC-LINC network:
- Guilford County, North Carolina, through Ready for School, Ready for Life
- Multnomah County, Oregon through Early Learning Multnomah of the United Way of the Columbia-Willamette
- Onondaga County, New York through Early Childhood Alliance – Onondaga
- Volusia and Flagler Counties, Florida through Thrive by Five of One Voice for Volusia
Our new members will dive into EC-LINC “Action Learning Lab” mode without delay. Along with existing EC-LINC communities, and thanks to the generous support from the Pritzker Children’s Initiative, a project of the J.B. and M.K. Pritzker Family Foundation, they will sharpen their attention on what it takes to increase the number of children who are developmentally on track for kindergarten by age three. Communities will pursue specific goals in the areas of maternal and child health, family support and early care and education, as they work towards reducing disparities in healthy birth outcomes, expanding access to home visiting, facilitating universal developmental screening and shoring up the early childhood workforce. In true EC-LINC fashion, they will do their work through joint learning and testing innovative approaches, guided by cross-cutting priorities of advancing racial equity, promoting parent agency, employing data-driven decision making and delivering results.
EC-LINC’s growth and development is a source of excitement and hope, especially in these challenging times. We look forward to working with this extraordinary network and sharing what we’re learning with the broader early childhood community, as together we continue to invest our resources and energy in improving the prospects for children, families and communities.
Frank Farrow is the president of CSSP.